When I was mulling over this topic in my head, I ran it by my buddy Dan as a trial balloon. His reaction was, “Removal of auras? WHAT PATCH IS IT?”
Ok, fair point. Thing is, the removal of auras had been like a shard of a popcorn kernel — a fleeting memory of a long-ago enjoyed bucket of salt, butter substitute, and air — forever lodged between tooth and gum. The pain of the loss has mostly dissipated, but reminders linger.
Auras as a class mechanic have been a staple of The Paladin across multiple Blizzard properties. In Diablo 2, paladins had a slew of defensive auras that they could use to the benefit of themselves and their party. In Warcraft 3, the paladin hero unit had Devotion Aura, which bestowed extra armor to surrounding units. In World of Warcraft, the paladin class launched with a whole toolbox of auras that allowed paladin players to buff their groupmates with various buffs (some more useful than others). Most recently, in Diablo 3, the new crusader class — essentially a paladin — features Laws which (let’s be honest) are just auras by another name.
Auras continued to be a staple of the paladin class in WoW, going through different changes from expansion to expansion until they were finally removed in the ability purge leading up to Mists of Pandaria.
With Warlords of Draenor (allegedly) on the horizon, this topic is admittedly slipping into the mists of history. Yet, I remain hopeful that it’s not too late. A grave injustice was done when auras were given the old heave-ho and it’s not too late to correct this error.
First, let’s talk about why auras are worth saving.
More than just history
I already breezed over the history of the paladin aura, and I’ll spare you, dear reader, from a deeper retelling. Suffice it to say, in an environment where abilities are being judged more and more from a utilitarian standpoint, I hope that an appeal to historical value would have some weight.
When you have a class mechanic that is as intrinsic as auras are to paladins, spanning multiple games and franchises as they do, removing that mechanic does more than clean up a neat little redundancy in your class design: it also tears a piece from the soul of that class. Sure, it can be dismissed as just a little graphic under the feet of the paladin — but auras can mean so much more than that.
When you play a game like World of Warcraft, what keeps many players anchored into the game isn’t that treasured allure of collecting seemingly meaningless points and running the same content multiple times a week ad nauseam, it’s the attachment to our characters. That’s what puts the RP in MMORPG.
Auras are as much a part of the paladin class as totems are to shamans, or demons to warlocks. Their removal loosens the string that connects paladins to their heritage, and diminishes the culture — the feel— of the class as a whole. Without, we take one more hesitant step towards homogenization and a darkest timeline where paladins are just warriors that shoot out yellow beams with our attacks.
A pretender occupies the stance bar
When auras were removed, the keys to the stance bar were handed over to a new tenant: seals. Instead of Retribution Aura and Crusader Aura, paladins were given the option to toggle between Seal of Insight and Seal of Righteousness. While slipping seals onto the stance bar seems like a neat little fit, from a class flavor perspective I argue this is antithetical to the paladin ethos.
As the flavor text on Uther’s TCG card said,
By safeguarding those around him, a paladin aids in his own defense.
Across three different games, the central idea of the paladin is of a support class in shining armor providing aid and comfort to nearby allies just by sheer presence alone. The power of a paladin flows from within as a divine will emanates from their figure outwards. They are an outlet for whatever deity or holy power they happen to act as an instrument to, a forever opened spigot of might and glory.
The power of a paladin does not primarily flow from their weapon, by the blessing bestowed on whatever slab of metal they hold in their hands. You know what class channels their power through their weapon? Death Knights: The antithesis of a paladin.
It’s a subtle difference, but I argue that it’s an important one.
The way forward
All these words later and you must be wondering what point I’m trying to get at. Mists of Pandaria, for all intents and purposes, is over and the changes that the expansion launched with are pretty set in stone. This is surely true, but for my own peace of mind I am compelled to offer a fleeting suggestion for how to correct this situation as the next expansion is cobbled together.
It’s obvious that mechanically the paladin class cannot get another layer of buffs via auras, so some shuffling must occur if they are going to return. Likewise, most of the effects that auras once offered are either deprecated (eg, the resistance auras) or have been folded into a passive ability (Heart of the Crusader) or something else entirely (the new Devotion Aura). Blizzard’s been very conscientious about culling group buffs, so the proposition of adding new ones is a non-starter.
And on top of that, you would rightly ask what I propose we would do with the stance bar, other than turn over the chair and dump the seals onto the floor, laid out on their dull faces.
The thing is, though, that I have no idea how to proceed from there. You could make seals passive, sure, since they have a fairly strong “illusion of choice” vibe going for them with two of the three specializations in PvE, but that introduces new headaches and isn’t really clear cut.
Most importantly: If you brought back the auras, what then would they do?
In the first draft of this post, I started typing an argument that auras could take over the job of blessings, but then I pulled off my shoes and socks and counted out that we have a grand total of two blessings — and the idea of upending two class mechanics (seals and blessings) to bring back one (auras) is … well, it’s dumb.
So, a thousand words later I’m laboring to wrap this all up with a neat little bow, but honestly I’m not sure that’s possible.
For want of a neat, little bow
It seems, quite clearly, there isn’t a way forward. The thesis of this post, as I set out, was (and hell, it remains) that auras should be brought back. I do still believe that in a better universe paladins are running around with glowing, colorful geometric designs cushioning their footfalls and all the friends surrounding them are better off for it. Those paladins also might as well inhale sulfur dioxide and exhale bubble gum, because I have no earthly clue how they make auras work over there or what they do.
Ultimately, should Blizzard bring back auras? Yes, absolutely. They are part of what it’s meant to be a paladin across three games and two franchises and the class feels diminished without them.
Could they bring back auras? Likely not, that ship has sailed, and with the new emphasis being on not drowning players in excessive mechanics and abilities, adding a whole new layer of buffs just doesn’t seem workable.
Would they bring back auras? No, I strongly suspect they would not.
Still, I continue to hope. And if you are within 40 yards of me you might feel some of that hope too.